Image caption: Philadelphia Tenants Union Vice President Barry Thompson has his fist raised in the air as he speaks into the microphone.
By James Yeun
Photos by Maddie Rose
“This is where it all started!” shouted Barry Thompson, vice president of the Philadelphia Tenants Union (PTU), as he walked into the Church of the Advocate on Wednesday, April 11th, arms full of deli sandwiches. “This is where we had our founding convention and began the fight — look where we are now!”
In 2015, Philly Socialists began its campaign for a citywide tenants’ union. In 2016, the Philadelphia Tenants Union had its founding convention at the Church of the Advocate, where it announced its commitment to building independent tenant power, with the pursuit of “Good Cause” eviction protections as its primary reform agenda.
On April 11th, the PTU returned to the Church of the Advocate to rally for Good Cause eviction protections.
Good Cause eviction protections require landlords to renew the lease of any tenant unless:
- The tenants breaks the terms of their lease (e.g., habitual non-payment of rent, refusing landlord entry of the property to do regular repairs, property damage)
- The tenant rejects a proposed rent increase
- The landlord or their relative wishes to move into the property
For those on the radical Left, this seems like a minimum set of reforms. PTU members agree — and this is just their first step.
Good Cause eviction protections represent the legal foundation to enforce other affordable housing reforms like rent control. Even if Philadelphia had rent control, currently, a landlord could simply evict tenants in rent-controlled units for no reason and then raise rents for new tenants. Similarly, tenants cannot effectively defend their rights if a landlord can later reject a lease renewal for no reason. While Good Cause protections are not the ceiling of the affordable housing fight, it is part of the foundation for a long-term struggle to win affordable housing.
At the rally, speeches came from PTU members and City Council member Curtis Jones (the primary sponsor of the Good Cause bill). Organizers provided free food to the 50 attendees at the rally, and the Strawberry Mansion High School Drumline provided the entertainment.
However, the central focus of the event was the panel, at which sat a range of tenants’ rights nonprofits, alongside Klyde Breitton (president of the PTU) and Karen Harvey (secretary of the PTU). When asked about policing in gentrifying neighborhoods, Klyde said:
“When we start having white people moving in — with more money, with more resources, with more social capital — then we see more increased policing. The point that I want to bring up is that a lot of the times the police who are in these areas are not for the residents who have been there for a long time. The police who are in those areas are there to protect the white people from the original residents of the neighborhood. A lot of times, I see that if you can’t kick someone out and evict them from that neighborhood, many times you’ll just lock someone up, and they are gone from that neighborhood.”
Gentrification is social cleansing1 — and evictions and rising rents are its primary tools. However, this rally and fight is not just about passing a single reform, it is about building an organization that is capable of winning future reforms, defending current reforms, and accountable to tenants, not City Council.
Some supporters of Good Cause, such as the city’s Community Legal Services, have provided crucial legal support and advice. But the PTU has organized the lobbying days, filled City Hall, outlined the strategy to target specific city council members, produced its own branding, led the social media campaigns, continued to take on individual tenant fights and lift up tenant leaders, and organized local unions, community associations, and nonprofits into a sponsoring coalition. Moreover, the PTU continues to carry on organizing tenants into an independent political base, through its advocacy for individual tenants and organizing tenants in buildings at risk of mass eviction.
Through this entire struggle, the PTU has positioned itself as the most powerful voice from the grassroots. This was made possible by years of building long-term trust-based relationships between the PTU and tenants. This work is not easy, but shouting from the rafters and activist networking will never deliver the goods. It is time the Left regain its position as the most credible voice of reform and a trustworthy community partner.
Want to help? Come out to City Hall when City Council decides on the final date of the vote!
Stay tuned by following the PTU and Good Cause Facebook pages, or by signing up for the Philly Socialists email list!
1 The process by which marginalized communities are destroyed and their members tossed from and forgotten by the rest of society.